An exploration of how fake news is taking over social media and putting public health at risk

Health Info Libr J. 2021 Jun;38(2):143-149. doi: 10.1111/hir.12320. Epub 2020 Jul 12.


Recent statistics show that almost 1/4 of a million people have died and four million people are affected either with mild or serious health problems caused by coronavirus (COVID-19). These numbers are rapidly increasing (World Health Organization, May 3, 2020c). There is much concern during this pandemic about the spread of misleading or inaccurate information. This article reports on a small study which attempted to identify the types and sources of COVID-19 misinformation. The authors identified and analysed 1225 pieces of COVID-19 fake news stories taken from fact-checkers, myth-busters and COVID-19 dashboards. The study is significant given the concern raised by the WHO Director-General that 'we are not just fighting the pandemic, we are also fighting infodemic'. The study concludes that the COVID-19 infodemic is full of false claims, half backed conspiracy theories and pseudoscientific therapies, regarding the diagnosis, treatment, prevention, origin and spread of the virus. Fake news is pervasive in social media, putting public health at risk. The scale of the crisis and ubiquity of the misleading information require that scientists, health information professionals and journalists exercise their professional responsibility to help the general public identify fake news stories. They should ensure that accurate information is published and disseminated.J.M.

Keywords: global health; information sources; public health; social media.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Communication*
  • Fraud / prevention & control
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • Public Health*
  • Social Media / statistics & numerical data*
  • Truth Disclosure / ethics*